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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

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TT is well to remember that even Hangchow was not all lotus and
-^peonies. Su Tungpo could not always laugh and sing and stage one-
man comic operas and go boating on the lake in the moonlight, for
there were seventeen thousand prisoners in jail to be tried for debt and
for salt smuggling, locust pests to be fought, the salt canal to be
dredged, a famine to be investigated. In the hundreds of poems written
by the poet at this time of his life, it is hard to find any dominant
foood. He wrote comic and satiric verse, inspiring descriptions of
•landscape, sentimental poems of love, songs gay with laughter, and
other songs bitter with tears. But underlying all his superficial frivoli-
ties and gaieties and cracking of jokes at the wine feasts, there was a
spirit of restlessness, of despondency, of sorrow and even of fear. No
one man reflected the feelings of his people more fully than Su Tungpo,
and it was given to him to put into songs and words of beauty more
richly and more fully what the other writers were trying to express.
Yet, it is well to remember that Su Tungpo had come away from the
capital to his post with a wound in his heart. There was a feeling of
insecurity and of hidden grief over the trend of political events, a grief
which touched his soul more deeply than others. As he beautifully
expressed it:

"The wounded mallard folds its wings e'en though the wind is quiet,
The frightened rook sleeps lightly when the moon is clear."

One poem he wrote at Michow, addressed to Chiao Shii, sums up his
general attitude in this time of prolific writing, between the years 1071
and 1076, at Hangchow and then Michow.

"Thirty-six thousand days comprise a human life.
Of this, old age and sickness occupy half.
And in this life, joy is attended by sorrow,
Laughter and song keep company with tears.
Without a why or wherefore, madly we plunge
Headlong like puppets or playthings of the gods.
Then in a while we laugh about the past,
All things blow over like a thunderstorm.
—Since I perceived this truth some time ago,
I have forsaken my merrymaking friends/'